• Harnessing the Giving Incentive

    Jun 10, 2013

    Service to others is an untapped workplace motivator and may surpass pay and promotions as factors in improving productivity, according to Adam Grant, PhD, an expert on organizational psychology and a professor at The Wharton School. When workers recognize the connection between their work and the people they are helping, they do their jobs better, Grant writes in his new book Give and Take (The Viking Press).

    For example, an Israeli study found that attaching patients’ photos to their CT scans increased radiologists’ diagnostic accuracy by 46 percent. In addition, 80 percent of the radiologists’ key diagnostic findings were discovered only when they saw the patients’ photos. 

    As Grant explains in his book, most people are either “takers,” “matchers,” or “givers.” In the workplace, takers try to get as much from others as possible while matchers trade favors evenly. In contrast, givers are willing to go the extra mile for others without expecting any specific return. They see their work as a way to serve others, whether that is patients, customers, or their fellow workers. 

    Making the connection between work and mission has an added benefit: It counteracts worker burnout, which is a common challenge for givers. Successful givers use two strategies to limit burnout. The first is seeking help from others when they become overwhelmed. The second is recognizing the positive impact of their work on others. 

    For example, Grant shares the story of a university call center where workers tasked with soliciting alumni donations experienced burnout and reduced productivity. The givers were the lowest performers because their failures to bring in donations deprived them of their highest motivation—helping others. However, their results turned around when they received letters and spoke on the phone with students who received scholarships funded by the donations. Money collected rose from $412 to $2,000 per shift. Although all of the call center workers improved their productivity, those classified as givers demonstrated the highest gains in effort and revenue.

    Related Q&A: Moving the Dial with Employee and Executive Incentives